Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review : Restaurant Arras - RELOCATED

Ground Floor
24 Hickson Road
Walsh Bay

Open for Lunch
Tuesday to Friday

Open for Dinner

I had been wanting to visit Restaurant Arras since first reading Simon Thomsen's review back in early 2008. I don't exactly know why, but Buggles was always strongly resistant to the idea.
Every now & then I would throw up the suggestion "How about we go to Arras", always to be met with a firm "no". So I was quite surprised when I said to Buggles "Where should I book for next Saturday, The Cut or Restaurant Arras?" and she responded "Arras". I don't know what changed, but I am very glad it had.

We visit the Walsh Bay area regularly thanks to our STC for me, Restaurant Arras has always been tantalisingly within reach. I have never wanted it to be a pre-theatre experience though, I wanted to relax, take my time.

So finally the night of our reservation arrived and we were both looking forward to the meal ahead.

The first thing we notice is how dark the room is and I immediately realise in this low light taking photos will be tricky (the very bad results speak for themselves). We are impressed however with the decor, lots of brick & dark timber. The tables are large, generous & very well spaced, they could have squeezed many more tables in here, but thankfully haven't.

We are taken to our table by Alon the Manager (ex Quay and it shows....professional, knowledgeable, courteous), seated & very promptly presented with a glass bowl brimming with fennel & poppyseed crisps, some of the crisps have a sweetness to them, so am not sure if they have been glazed with honey, they all delicious though, sweet & savoury. Underneath the crisps is a bed of delectable caramelised peanuts. A perfect way to begin the meal.

Next to arrive is the house made bread, a vast selection including white & brown sourdoughs, pumpkin, onion, fennel & stout & a few more I can't remember. I chose the onion & Buggles the fennel & stout. As I tear open my still warm onion roll I am bowled over by the rich, sweet smell of onion, served with lashing of the room temperature butter it is divine. The fennel & stout roll is a little heavy & stodgy & doesn't really deliver on the promised on bread round number 2, we decide to share another onion roll.

Following this we decide to forgo what has become our 'usual',  a sparkling wine, and decide on a couple of cocktails. I go with the 'Arras Butterfly' muddled lemon, vanilla vodka, butterscotch schnapps, lemoncello and sugar syrup. This cocktail is fresh, vibrant & lemony, not too sweet...perfect. Buggles ordered 'Campari in the City', Campari, Belvedere Pomara´ncza, Cointreau, cranberry juice. This cocktail was quite bitter, tempered with a touch of sweetness & still quite refreshing.

The amuse bouche arrived shortly after.....Pumpkin Patch.
Beautiful to look at, this was a dish of varying textures of pumpkin...pureed, silky smooth rolls, crunchy swirls & roasted seed. This was a very enjoyable & wonderfully conceived dish.

We were now ready for our entrees. Buggles went with Crab Eggy bread, dressed crab, jelly & custard.
This is another attractive dish. Brioche style bread, dipped in egg, filled with crab & golden fried, served alongside rolled, dressed & beautifully sweet crab with caviar like balls of jelly & a puddle of custard. The frozen avocado puree added another element to the dish as did the tomato jelly - a very well seasoned and flavoursome dish.

I ordered the Pear glazed duck, risotto & berries. This dish was perfectly seasoned & tasted incredible. The duck leg risotto was probably my favorite aspect alongside the sticky, rich droplets of sour cherry puree. The addition of popcorn added a lovely salty crunch. This came close to my all time favourite duck dish from Vue de Monde, unfortunately what stopped it reaching those dizzy heights, was the main component of the dish, the breast. While cooked well & still moist, it lacked the combination of tenderness & crispness that the Vue de Monde dish captured so well. All in all though, very good. 

For her main Buggles decided on Chicken or Fish.
This consisted of Blue Eye Trevalla, meaty & still holding its shape, served with crisp chicken skin, a heady chicken consomme and an array of vegetables. Buggles liked how meaty the fish was, it wasn't flaky & still had some bite to it. The crispy chicken skin was salty & delicious & the chicken consomme (poured at the table) was wonderfully clear & rich in chicken flavour. A winner with Buggles.

As anyone who reads Buggles & Squeak knows, I do have a beef obsession. I can't order anything else (usually) if it is on a menu. On this occasion I was thrice tempted by Beef, Dripping, Nasturtium & Aligot. Yes, beef (1) cooked in it's own fat (2), served with Aligot (3)...there was no way this baby was getting away from me.
I have to admit to being a little disappointed when asked how I would like my beef cooked. In my mind I had visualised slow cooked beef, pull apart tender topped with thick, crispy & beautifully rendered fat. This was not to be. What arrived was two thickish slices of medium rare beef, roasted cloves of garlic, nasturtium béarnaise & a mere smear of aligot. The beef is very tender & delicious, the garlic cloves sweet & creamy, the nasturtium béarnaise I feel didn't really add too much to the dish other than a slight, sweet tang & the aligot was completely wasted served in this fashion. This wonderfully cheesy mash should be served in abundance (as it was when we ordered it at Embrasse), so that one can truly experience the sheer indulgence of it. In this dish a creamy paris mash could have easily done the trick. With that said though, it was still a remarkable dish that I would easily order again.

We were once again tossing up whether to order the cheese course, but four cheeses seemed like too much, so we went straight to dessert.

First to arrive was our pre-dessert, Meringue, grape & praline. Not so sure how this rates in terms of palate cleansing, but in terms of flavour it was quite delicious. Crunchy, melting meringue, thin slices of grape served with a wonderfully toffeed praline, little balls of jelly & sorbet. It was all very good except the little balls of red jelly only added texture, they had next to no flavour at all.

The Perennial was the dessert of choice for Buggles, on this occasion it was rhubarb. The rhubarb arrived in many part of a chequer board, which consisted of rhubarb mousse & rice pudding, the rice a  perfect foil to light, tart mousse. An arancini ball crunchy on the outside & filled with gooey rice pudding, shared the plate with sweet poached rhubarb, rhubarb jelly & rhubarb sorbet. The dish was fresh with clean flavours & a must have for all rhubarb & rice pudding lovers.

Citrus is probably my favourite dessert ingredient, so when I spotted the interestingly titled Life Gave Us Lemons....and Limes....and, well, let's just say it spoke to me. As the name would suggest this was a celebration of all things citrus.
Lime & orange sorbets, lemon curds & creams. grilled lemon/lime segments, chewy lemony marshmallows. Citrus heaven!
I loved every wonderful mouthful.
With dessert Alon suggested I try the Small Acres Pomona Ice Cyder from Orange NSW. This is a cider made from frozen apples that while still tasting strongly of apple, presents as a dessert wine. It was spectacular & went very well with my dessert.

To finish things off we ordered two coffees & petit fours. The petit fours tray at Arras is the stuff of legend & we were anticipating its arrival. The tray is massive with a huge assortment of delights on offer. We are told we can take as many as we want...really? surely not? I decided on four, which quickly changed to six...3 cubes of exquisitely flavoured jellies (lemon, pineapple & pink grapefruit), crunchy honeycomb, something white chocolate, raspberry & oozy & a small glass containing lemon sherbet & a lemon lollipop. Buggles chose the grapefruit jelly, an orange chocolate, coffee ganache and a Pernod chocolate.

A truly wonderful way to end a quite remarkable meal.

I should mention that the service at Restaurant Arras can be a little hit & miss. Most of the waitstaff are very good, friendly & knowledgeable (Alon), while others are vague & almost corpse like, barely uttering a word. Our main waitress took a while to warm to us, but by the end of the meal she was fine.

That said...It won't be long before Restaurant Arras sees Buggles & Squeak again.

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